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Opinion

Preview: ‘Battlestar Galactica: The Plan’ Is No ‘Razor’

Michael Hinman takes a spoiler-light look at the direct-to-DVD movie that comes out Tuesday


This review may contain minor spoilers.

While it might be hard to continue Syfy’s “Battlestar Galactica” from where we left off the series (150,000 years in the future with Hera being the mother of modern humanity), there is plenty of backstory left to tell.

Universal jumped at this, and commissioned “The Plan” even before the show itself wrapped up for audiences everywhere earlier this year. Originally meant to be written by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson, the job to write “The Plan” shifted over to the wonderful Jane Espenson instead when Weddle and Thompson made the transition over to “CSI” on CBS.

Trying to give fans yet another perspective on the story we already watched unfold over four seasons, we were given a look at how the Cylons planned the attacks, and what Brother Cavil (Dean Stockwell) was forced to do when a small band of humans in the ragtag fleet survived.

This was the story I was looking forward to. While “Razor” touched on the “Battlestar Pegasus” perspective, which seemed mildly interesting, this was a Cylon-heavy story that was explained quite a bit by a very injured Samuel Anders before be became a permanent blue-bath fixture leading the tired fleet into the sun.

A Cylon-driven story creates a lot of expectations, because we all know that we watch shows like this for the bad guys. And the bar had already been set with “Razor,” which had been written by Michael Taylor and directed by Emmy-nominee Felix Enriquez Alcala.

The verdict? “Battlestar Galactica: The Plan” fails to meet that bar.

The entire movie felt like a clip show of deleted scenes, running all over the place in time, and really providing little to tie the story together. And two highly gratuitous scenes — a full-frontal nudity scene and a senseless death — felt like cheap ways to try and make this movie gritty and shocking. The sad part is that storylines and good writing make “Battlestar Galactica” gritty and shocking, and while I have nothing against nudity or character deaths, it has to make sense in the story, and not stand out like a broken-down Cylon.

At the same time, the most interesting parts of the Cylon story were cut out or not even considered for this film. Really!

I mean, look at this way. You had the Final Five who show up in the middle of the first Cylon war. They offer the Centurions evolutionary advancement in terms of resurrection and becoming more like their human creators, so the war ends. After the skinjobs are created, the Cylons try to simply live their lives away from the humans, but Cavil wants revenge.

When the Final Five get in his way, he kills them, and then resurrects them, depositing them all over the Twelve Colonies, giving them a front-row seat to the holocaust he’s about to unleash.

This is great storytelling by itself. Except we only get the end of this tale in “The Plan.” We don’t get to see the Final Five arrive, we don’t get to see Cavil’s betrayal. Instead, we pick up with Cavil already having deposited the Final Five in the Colonies and go from there.

It was simply a missed story opportunity, and really took away from the movie.

What Worked

If you are a diehard “Battlestar Galactica” fan, then you’re going to want to watch “The Plan” at least once. And because we would like to see more of these films, it would be great if you bought it, and not just borrowed a friend’s, or worse yet, pirate it (which, by the way, is illegal).

There were some amazing scenes that just really worked well, especially some scenes from the pilot like when Number Six (Tricia Helfer) is standing in the Caprica City square, looks up, and seems to be talking to the Cylon ships overhead telling them it was about time that they come. Now we know what she was talking to because the camera actually pans, and to me, that was pretty cool.

Getting to see how Cavil’s terror cell operated on the Galactica also was something worth seeing, especially getting the idea of how some of the first season antics like Shelly Godfrey accusing Baltar of causing the attacks in the first place, and Doral wearing the suicide vest, and how little those actions did.

Stockwell is great, as always, playing Cavil, and Espenson — as expected — gives him some wonderful lines. And I, of course, have always enjoyed the directing style of Edward James Olmos, a man who likes to keep things moving.

What Didn’t Work

But keeping it moving might be one of the things that made “The Plan” hard to follow. The idea for a DVD release of this type is to grow the audience-base and bring more people into the fold who might buy future DVDs, so that at least some of the “Battlestar Galactica” stories can continue.

Like Joss Whedon’s “Serenity,” however, “The Plan” is more of a gift for the fans, and makes almost no effort to bring outside viewers in.

When we saw “Razor,” you may not have been a “Battlestar Galactica” watcher, but you could still enjoy the built-in storyline that introduced Kendra Shaw, and allowed both fans and non-fans alike to see the attacks and what followed more from her perspective. This is so important when you are trying to tell a lot of backstory that jumps all around the timeline, and “Razor” did a great job of keep things in some sort of order.

That was absent from “The Plan.” While the effort was made using Brother Cavil, who was left on the Galactica after the attacks, it wasn’t a strong enough central storyline to help tie everything else together. You basically had Cavil’s terror cell, and then mindless jumping all over the place as if someone found some additional deleted scenes and decided to edit them together and sell them as a separate DVD.

Narrative like what we had in “Razor” is absolutely essential, and it’s just not here.

And like I said before, some of the best aspects of the Cylon storyline was left out here. Maybe the intention was to save it for another movie, I don’t know, but at least including Cavil’s betrayal of the FInal Five might have helped explain some of his motivation early on, and would’ve eliminated the need for his slow-moving expository later on that dragged down the overall movie even more.

I have a hard time saying this, because I’ve always been an advocate of taking the European approach to how movies should be rated: Where violence should be limited to adults and nudity allowed for broader audiences, instead of the other way around. And while I know that having nudity in something like this could create some additional interest in the DVD as a way to separate it from its cable show that couldn’t show things like this, it needs to be something that works OK in the storyline.

For instance, there are some bare breasts in “The Plan.” However, how they are used make sense with the storyline and actually provides some deep insight into Ellen Tigh (Kate Vernon). But there is a scene of male nudity that takes place when we end up in a Galactica washroom. The scene is so obvious that even I slapped my head.

Sure, the attempt to balance male and female nudity is appreciated since it’s usually more one-sided, but this particular three-second shot looked like it was just added at the last minute, and that’s not what fans want. They want cohesion, not just in story, but in what they see visually and what they hear musically.

Finally, there is a death that just makes no sense to me. It happens toward the end of the movie, and I won’t go into details about it here, but it just makes me bang my head to the wall trying to figure out why they did this.

It’s not that “Battlestar Galactica” hasn’t had controversial deaths in the past of this nature, but at least there is some story element and timing that can explain why those deaths (and in one sequence, a dream death) took place.

This death? I’m still trying to figure out why it was needed. The only answer I can come up with is that it’s simply gratuitous, and meant to only get people talking and debating.

It worked here since I’m spending a few paragraphs on it, but you want people to be standing around the watercooler talking about how they should go see “The Plan,” not giving reasons on why they shouldn’t. And unnecessary shock-value scenes like this will just give the impression that the rest of the film must be weak to have to resort to antics like that, and it could keep people away.

You have no idea how hard it is for me to not give “The Plan” a glowing review, because “Battlestar Galactica” is my most favorite show of all time, and Jane Espenson is an amazingly gifted writer while Edward James Olmos has done some fantastic work as a director.

But that’s a high bar to reach, and putting something out there and charging people money for it means you have to be even higher than what the series was.

Sadly, “The Plan” missed the mark.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

“Battlestar Galactica: The Plan” stars Dean Stockwell, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Edward James Olmos, Michael Hogan, Kate Vernon, Michael Trucco and Aaron Douglas. It was written by Jane Espenson and directed by Edward James Olmos.

“Battlestar Galactica: The Plan” hits video stores in North America Oct. 27.

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